Fast & Elegant Grown-Up Macaroni & Cheese
Ever have a fresh tub of crème fraîche hanging around in the fridge? Nope, me neither. But I did purchase some earlier this week with the idea that I'd create an amazing mac and cheese with it. Then, it sat there, on its little shelf in the fridge, taunting me. Day after day.
No magical inspiration sprang into my head, but I knew I needed to use the crème fraîche soon. This morning, I'd had enough. Apparently, the mac and cheese gods are not smiling down upon me this week, so I decided to use the tools I had, so to speak.
I grabbed the confounding crème fraîche along with some gruyere, parmesan, and Kerrygold aged sharp cheddar. I then headed for the garden and snipped a few sprigs of fresh variegated thyme. And, I decided to go big and grabbed some campanelle, one of the fresh pastas from Lagana Pastathat I sooooo love. Thus armed, I reached for my large mac & cheese pot.
Full disclosure: the fresh garlic is missing from my ingredients photo. This is so because I was creating on the fly, and only after I tasted the sauce after including my seasonings did I realize that it needed something - and that something was a large clove of fresh garlic, minced. So, here is the garlic that was absent from my ingredients shot.
I'm calling this recipe fast and elegant because it is only a handful of ingredients and it is indeed quite a fast preparation. Since I used crème fraîche, there was no need for a traditional bèchamel sauce and the time it normally takes to cook it. The quick and dirty version of the recipe goes like this: 1. Cook pasta and drain. 2. Add crème fraîche to pot, then cheeses. Add seasonings, then add cooked pasta. That's it. REALLY simple, right? Yep, it is. But, it tastes like something you've slaved over the entire day. The grown-up combination of complex cheeses plus the unexpected hit of thyme and garlic equals an amazing depth of flavor that surprised me.
So, getting back to the recipe. Start by cooking your pasta per package directions, then drain and set aside. While the pasta is cooking, shred the cheeses and mince the large clove of garlic.
Add the crème fraîche to the same pot in which you cooked the pasta and put the flame on low. Over low heat, stir the crème fraîche and then add the cheeses. Cook, stirring gently, over low heat until the cheeses are melted.
Add the thyme and salt and pepper to taste (I added about a half-teaspoon of salt and 1.5 teaspoons of pepper), then add the minced garlic. Stir until everything is thoroughly combined, then add the pasta back to the sauce and give it a good stir.
After that, it's just a matter of plating your mac and cheese and garnishing it with a little additional thyme, if you like. That, and trying not to inhale the entire batch in one sitting. I know of what I speak!
Four elbows up for this one! The lovely piquant aspect from the gruyere and the garlic played nicely with the toothiness of the fresh pasta. The only thing I'd change is to add more fresh thyme - it got a little lost in the rest of the flavors. And the great thing about this recipe is its adaptability - you can use any three cheeses you want, or any combination of cheese (if you only want one cheese, go for it!) as long as you make sure your amounts are per the recipe. Lovely!
Here's my recipe.
- 16 ounces fresh campanelle pasta (or whatever dry pasta you prefer)
- 3 ounces Gruyere, shredded
- 3 ounces Irish sharp cheddar, shredded
- 3 ounces Parmesan, shredded
- 7.5 ounces crème fraîche
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme (or more to taste, about three sprigs)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cook pasta per package directions, drain and set aside.
- Using the same large pot in which you cooked the pasta, add crème fraîche over low heat, stirring. Add the three cheeses and cook gently over low heat until melted.
- Add salt, pepper, thyme and garlic and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Add cooked pasta and stir to combine.
- Plate, garnishing with additional fresh thyme if desired.
- Serve and scarf down immediately!